Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hmph! Copy Editing the Novel Was Tough!

Another landmark! No, nothing to do with Landmark, the bookstore, of which we are a regular visitor and fan, though we have seen the area for books shrinking, of late. Last time we were there we bought an expensive leather shoebox which we intend to use as our toiletry box. An expensive toiletry box from a book store? Dumb us! Why are we a bibliophile and not a clothesphile, or, toiletryphile, for starters?

We finished another painful editing process on the novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard. This time it was copy editing, removing silly spelling mistakes, respecting word territory (we make this mistake too often, i.e., using same words repeatedly in close proximity), removing needless footnotes (there were too many, in the final copy we intend to eliminate all footnotes), deleting self-indulgent passages (of this there were too many), eliminating literary flourishes (Ahem!).

All this because, in the madly competitive world of today, where anyone owning a laptop is writing a novel (ya know, "am writing a novel" is the best pick-up line there is, beats "I have seen you somewhere"), publishers depend too much on literary agents to turn out publishable manuscripts. And, this is the sorry part, literary agents won't look at manuscripts that have simple flaws, no matter how good they are (they receive too many submissions that are utter tripe). We don't blame them, poor fellows, much harried as they are about copyrights, territories, and suchlike.

Now, boo hoo, we have to sit down and carry out all those corrections, 350 pages of them. Writing sucks. Why weren't we a painter, an architect, a musician?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Singing and Strumming at a Christmas Celebration

The occasion was Kairali Belapur’s Christmas celebrations and friend Henry wanted me to sing a song. So I dug out an old Christmas song I had written and composed, changed a few lyrics, and sang. The change in lyrics was because when I actually stood and sang there appeared to be some tunelessness, some mis-match in the harmonies.

It's tough... standing and strumming. My right hand is a blur!
Then there was the situation, the stage fright to be thought about. My son said, “Papa, don’t make an ass of yourself, one mistake and they will laugh at you for ages.” He is my biggest critic. Son, Papa can handle all that, I am, sort of, well, used to all that. Son didn’t come for the performance, so as not to be ridiculed by friends. Wifey was supportive. But then, can I do it? What will those Malayalis whom I meet everyday think? They don’t even know I write, write poetry, sing!

So I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach as I sat through the program. There was a lot of Karaoke singing, which is acceptable these days, I guess. Then my turn came and I went on stage, after some backstage shenanigans. One of the singers, a pretty young lady was so overcome she refused to sing despite a lot of coaxing by her mother. Then – for the first time in my life – I sang standing up strumming my guitar. Hitherto, I had only sat and played the guitar. Must say standing up, playing the instrument, and singing is tough. You have to concentrate on so many different things. But, I managed fine without nervousness, well, not much.

Midway through the performance I felt my strumming becoming unsteady. Haven’t I rehearsed this for three days? Panic. Overcome by singing the choral part twice, no, thrice. Then it was time to say “Thank you, God bless,” and go off stage. Wifey says applause was deafening. A woman sitting beside her wanted to know how I do it. As if wifey knows how I do it. Hehe. Takes hundreds of hours of practice, lady. I am self-taught, so, it’s all the more harder. All those lonely hours you would be watching television serials, I am strummin, and singin! Nothing in life is easy, really, nothing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Art of Being a Published Author

 Reading this article by Tim Parks in
, I 
couldn't but make me hang my head, in contrition, and think. About myself, the novel I am writing and the effort it takes. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to put a book out in the market, or, to be euphemistic, on the bookshelves. I was at Landmark, Vashi, yesterday and saw that they had removed all the stools they had in the book aisles. Was this deliberate? Were people seriously browsing with intention of buying, as I was doing, or just passing time? The book section had shrunk to quarter the floor space and the shop was dominated by video games, cell phones, and knick-knacks. There were children, unruly ones, running around screaming loudly. One felt nostalgic about bookshops one knew: Strand Book Stall in Fort; Nalanda, at the Taj Mahal Hotel (one has to pass through security check now, so I don't bother), the old Chetna book shop at Kala Ghoda (closed down); Mani's book shop on Colaba Causeway (which is now Search Word, or something such); they were all about books and books alone.


Now I was meaning to write something about writers. When a writer gets published for the first time, the whole scenario changes. No longer is he the reviled loser, trying to cobble up a novel, trying very hard to appear decent (though it is difficult as he doesn't have a steady job), trying to mingle with the so-called literati, caferati, whatever. In whatever circumstances he/she is working there are the often assumed lines of distinction being drawn such: can write/can't write to save his/her life. This is the bane of all writers, copywriters and technical writers included. If a majority sees you one way then you are doomed to that way for life. That's the politics of writing.


However, a transformation occurs when one gets published. The whole slam-dunk has been achieved and one needs to pontificate, act the moralist, or, the rebel as the case may be, as one is a published writer. One is asked to literary events, to speak at literary festivals, one's opinion is sought by newspapers and magazines. This can kill the writer in you and make you into another charlatan; all those one book wonders can tell you. One no longer suffers fools (aspiring writers) gladly and put on an inscrutable expression at gathering and even being nasty is excusable. After all, one is a published writer. Ain't it? Hm.


Nothing is greater than the disdain of the published writer for the unpublished (I typed non-published, which is an Indianism I should try and avoid: non-Indian, non-Malayali, non-Bengali, non-Brahmin, non, etcetera.). The published writer is all about being a winner, being somebody greater than the other writer (who can't write to save his life), who can write the next big Indian, or, world novel that will shake the world and sell millions of copies. Success can go to one's head faster than Tequila shots, and when adulation isn't coming one can go to desperate extents to get them. The haste to produce the next best-seller is so urgent that publishers put down the condition of delivering three books in a tight deadline of three years, which often stifles creativity, in fact, kills it.


Of course, when one is being feted around the world, when one offers one's sound bites on television, one can't be bothered to talk or write to a hapless struggling writer offering critique that could save his (writing) life. Writers of yore had secretaries who were writers themselves. These secretaries answered letters and brought interesting talent to the attention of the writer. These days who wants secretaries when one can type an email oneself and tweet inanities when eating noodle.


And, while I am at it, one final advise to struggling starving writers. Don't go so much after post-publishing celebrity-dom and self publish your novel. That's a trap. You will neither be called a published author nor be called to chair a session at the festival with a suffix like that. You will be condemned to eternal damnation as a self-published author.


The views, of course, are personal and not intended to hurt anybody.